A winding strip of roadway on Cantlay Street and Nestle Ave., behind the JONS grocery store in Reseda, is no longer lined with RVs and tents.
On Wednesday, Sept. 20, Mayor Karen Bass, Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath announced that 64 people encamped at that location are no longer living on the street by utilizing the city’s Inside Safe initiative.
This is the 26th Inside Safe encampment removal operation in Los Angeles, and the second conducted in Reseda.
“Our comprehensive approach is changing lives every day, and we will continue to lead with housing and services to urgently bring people inside and help them stay inside for good,” said Bass.
Those previously living in that Reseda encampment were given shelter in a nearby hotel, operated with services provided by the valley-based nonprofit Hope the Mission.
“They [Hope the Mission] provide meals, services, they help the folks get documentation and they’re focused on the housing navigation to get people to not just be in that hotel, but to be on their way to getting out of that hotel and into the next step,”said Blumenfield.
“Everybody’s happy,” said Frank Mares, a longtime homeowner in the neighboring area.
“I see all these people, a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time, walking by with their kids now. They feel safe.”
Mares said people in the community have been petitioning the city for three years to do something about the encampment, citing it as a safety and health hazard.
“It’s not like it had been ignored, but it had never had the benefit of this kind of intense encampment-wide approach,” said Blumenfield about the Reseda location.
The city has been working with this particular encampment for years, part of why it was chosen for the Inside Safe operation.
Inside Safe is described as a voluntary approach program that leads with housing and services. The program lists its five goals to reduce loss of life on the streets, increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, eliminate encampments, promote long-term housing stability and enhance the safety and hygiene of neighborhoods.
Assisting the Whole Encampment
There’s no debate from all those who’ve worked to find solutions to LA’s unhoused crisis – it’s hard to provide services when the need far outweighs the funding for resources. The Inside Safe program, as a targeted system, is attempting to maximize its resources.
In the past, Los Angeles provided services on a first-come, first-serve manner, later developing a Coordinated Entry System (CES) to have more targeted resource distribution. Service providers identify those most in need and provide resources to them first.
Inside Safe takes a new approach by utilizing dedicated resources for one specific encampment at a time, rather than the most vulnerable populations across multiple encampments or locations.
“If that encampment that you had been living in and enabled by, positive and negative, is no longer there, then there’s less incentive to want to get back to it. And it’s more of an incentive to want to move forward in your development into the next step,” said Blumenfield.
Proponents of the Inside Safe program maintain that a location-focused approach can provide needed oversight. Additionally, targeting resources in this manner can utilize the community aspect of encampments in a positive way.
“These communities can also be used to get everybody out at the same time. People are more willing to go to that next step when they see everybody around them and their encampment going to their next step,”said Blumenfield.
According to Blumenfield, all 48 people in Reseda who agreed to enter the program as a result of outreach in the weeks prior to the cleanup were relocated into transitional hotel housing. They were also able to relocate an additional 16 people from nearby areas who requested services.
For those who did not accept shelter, it is unclear where they now reside.
Unhoused Numbers Surpasses Funding
Long-time advocates for the unhoused believe the success of this program is yet to be fully realized and people in temporary housing can fall between the cracks before permanent housing is found.
Harry Sherman, community liaison director for About My Father’s Business (AMFB) and board member of the West Valley Food Pantry, said many people don’t make it into permanent housing.
He said the on-the-ground community workers of AMFB often see people back on the street who were once in temporary housing programs.
“When tenants go in [to temporary housing], they aren’t always treated well,” said Sherman.
Sherman points out that too often people are kicked out for minor infractions and given only an hour to collect their belongings. With regulations that include curfews, visitor restrictions and no space for pets – temporary housing doesn’t always meet the needs of those unhoused.
According to Blumenfield, the Reseda location allows pets and does not implement a curfew.
A significant number of the unhoused population feel they are treated better and are less stressed by staying in encampments.
“People are really suffering,” said Pastor Kathy Huck, founder and executive director of AMFB, an organization that advocates for unhoused, food and financially unsecured residents in the Valley. “We don’t see a relief.”
It was reported earlier this year that one in six people in the Inside Safe program during previous efforts had left the temporary housing provided to them.
The program, which typically moves people from encampments into hotels or motels as temporary housing, may not fully address other factors that contribute to homelessness.
Bass attributed struggles with addiction, mental health and opposition to hotel rules as causes for those who left the program.
Sherman said some people can spend years in locations they were only supposed to be in for months. This brings up the larger issue of housing affordability in Los Angeles County.
He points out that the larger problem remains – there is not enough permanent supportive housing or affordable housing to readily move people out of what is supposed to be a temporary, transitional living situation.
“They’re not coming up with long-term solutions, but are using bandaids,” said Sherman, “And they’re used bandaids, so they are not doing what they are supposed to do.”
Public Support Can Go Far
There is a potential side benefit to the Inside Safe approach. Resources require public buy-in and it’s easier for the public to recognize a local change, rather than efforts spread across the entire city.
Targeting one area at a time could give more visibility to the effort, or at least the perception of it, and eventually more support and funding.
With a long list of challenges, successfully moving the unhoused to permanent inside residences requires concentrated oversight.
In the meantime, residents like Mares hope the Inside Safe program works and the unhoused encampment doesn’t return to his neighborhood.
“Finally, our new mayor, she’s the one that came and cleaned all this up,” said Mares. “And that’s the way it should be done. Because she helped them too.”
Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this story